Saturday, July 11, 2009

Freedom for All Religions in U.S.

In colonial America, a great many groups lived that had come here for religion freedom. And yet, some of the same people seeking their own freedom were denying the religious freedom of other groups. So even before our Constitution was drafted, several states adopted legislation that would protect the rights of believers in any religion.

The overwhelming majority of Americans at the time were Christian, but of various denominations. Much of the time the debate about religion and Congress not establishing religion, were actually understood at the time to be about competition among the Christian sects. Despite that wide majority in numbers and "clout" in the country, Jewish settlers came here and managed to thrive.

According to the Library of Congress:

"In 1654, the first group of Jews to arrive in the future U.S. settled in what is now New York. And as early as 1658, Jewish immigrants arrived in Newport seeking religious liberty. Throughout the colonial period, Jews continued to come to North America, settling mainly in seaport towns. By the time of the Declaration of Independence, these immigrants had established several thriving synagogues." ... "On August 17, 1790, the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, presented a congratulatory address to President George Washington on the occasion of his visit to their city. Both the address, written by Moses Seixas, and Washington's response appeared together in several newspapers. They encapsulate Washington’s clearest articulation of his belief in religious freedom and the first presidential affirmation of the free and equal status of Jewish-American citizens."

Shown here is the Touro Synagogue, which is the sole surviving colonial-era synagogue in America. Designed by Peter Harrison and constructed from 1759 to 1763, it is considered an architectural masterpiece.

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